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    NewsAfricaThe turn on the Sahara unbalances the commercial relationship of Spain with the Maghreb

    The turn on the Sahara unbalances the commercial relationship of Spain with the Maghreb

    Entrance to Ceuta from Morocco last Friday through the El Tarajal pass.MAE

    The Government of Pedro Sanchez made its riskiest decision in foreign policy in March of last year: it ended 46 years of neutrality in the Sahara conflict and aligned itself with Rabat by describing its offer of autonomy as the “most serious, realistic” option. and credible” to put an end to the dispute. The Spanish turn with respect to its former colony had withering diplomatic consequences: Morocco returned its ambassador to Madrid, who had withdrawn ten months earlier, while Algeria called its ambassador, who has not yet returned, for consultations.

    The decision also had economic consequences, although its scope could not be appreciated so immediately. Ten months after, and with the official foreign trade data for 2022, it is now possible to assess to what extent the change in position on the Sahara was, or was not, a good deal for Spain. The truth, anticipating conclusions, is that the balance presents lights and shadows.

    Spain and Morocco face, this Wednesday and Thursday in Rabat, their XII High Level Meeting (RAN) at a sweet moment in their relations and not only political but also economic. Spain is consolidated as the first commercial partner of the Alaouite kingdom, with commercial exchanges of almost 19,000 million euros. For the first time, in 2022, Spanish exports to Rabat have exceeded 10,000 million (10,839), which represents an increase of 12.72% compared to the previous year and 28.2% (2,385 million) compared to 2019. last year before the pandemic. Imports from Morocco have also grown strongly: from 6,962 million in 2019 they have gone to 8,096 million in 2022, which represents an increase of 16%.

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    In short, Spanish exports to Morocco grew by 2,385 million euros in the last two years, while imports did so by 1,134 million. The trade balance, which was already favorable to Spain, has become even more unbalanced: if in 2019 Spain exported 21.4% more than it imported from the neighboring country, now it sells 33.8% more.

    With Algeria the reverse situation has occurred. The main sponsor of the Polisario Front, which houses the Saharawi refugee camps on its territory, has reduced imports from Spain to a minimum. If in 2019 Spain exported goods to Algeria worth 2,906 million, in 2022 that figure dropped to just over a third: 1,010 million. The drop in Spanish exports to the North African country has been 65.2% in the last two years. If the 2,385 million that Spain has sold more to Morocco is subtracted from the 1,896 million that it has sold less to Algeria, there is still a balance of 489 million favorable for Spain.

    The equation is altered if imports of Algerian products to Spain are also considered, which have gone from 3,851 million in 2019 to 7,105 million in 2022, representing an increase of 84.4%. Despite the diplomatic crisis, the flow of Algerian gas and fuel to Spain has not been interrupted, but its price has skyrocketed, in such a way that the Algerian hydrocarbon bill has gone from 3,639 million in 2019 to 6,694 last year , an increase of almost 80%. This chapter represents, both then and now, more than 94% of purchases from Spain to Algeria.

    As a result of the 65.2% drop in exports and the 84% increase in imports, Spain’s trade deficit with Algeria has multiplied: from 945 million in 2019 it has gone to 6,095 in 2022. If it does Two years ago, Spanish exports to Algeria represented 75.4% of imports, now they only represent 14.2%.

    A month-by-month analysis of Spanish sales to Morocco and Algeria reveals to what extent the political situation has affected the flow of trade. In the case of Morocco, exports have continued to grow, with increases ranging from a maximum of 41.6% in April to a minimum of 12.1% in March. In this sense, it does not seem that the letter that Pedro Sanchez sent to Mohamed VI on March 14 represented a change in trend; Rather, the momentum to growth that exports already had was maintained without hindrance, with the ups and downs typical of the different times of the year.

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    Very different has been the evolution of Spanish sales to Algeria. The year began with a strong increase of 51.1% in January, which continued with oscillations until April, when they grew by 33%, to stop in May (increase of 11.2%) and collapse from June, with falls throughout the second half of the year between 79.8% in August and 93.2% in December.

    The month-by-month evolution of Spanish exports to Algeria leaves little doubt that they have been the victims of political retaliation. On June 8, after Sanchez ratified in Congress the change of position on the Sahara, Algeria suspended its friendship treaty with Spain and the Association of Banks and Financial Establishments (Abef), a State body, distributed a circular that it froze the direct debits of the payments of operations with Spain.

    Although Algeria later said that the circular had been withdrawn, perhaps to avoid reprisals from the EU, official data confirms that the lock on Spanish products remains. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jose Manuel Albares, then traveled to Brussels to meet with the Trade Commissioner, Valdis Dombrovskis, and the European Commission threatened to denounce Algeria for violating the association treaty with the EU. So far it hasn’t.

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